Collaborative Divorce: What the Heck is it?

man and woman, arms crossed, unhappy marriage

So you want to get divorced?  Maybe just legally separated?

The BIG and I mean HUGE question is, what’s the best way to do it? What process is as cost effective as possible given the needs of the parties and the complexity of the case? What process deals with the legal, financial and emotional aspects of the divorce?  What process gives the kids a voice?  Which process allows your family to move forward in the most positive way possible? Try a Collaborative Divorce – it can do it all!

Collaborative Divorce Practitioners go about things with a team approach.  The team consists of an attorney for each party, a coach for each party and a financial professional.  When children are involved, a child specialist also is part of the team.

All of the practitioners have been through Collaborative Divorce training and most also have training in mediation.

The Lawyers: Collaborative lawyers look at a divorce as an opportunity for unique and creative solutions that work for each individual family. They do the legal part of the divorce, give legal advice, fill out court forms, write up agreements and deal with specific legal issues.

The Coaches: Coaches are mental health professionals who provide support to the clients.  This is a skills-based approach to help each client manage their own emotions, identify their priorities and learn to communicate in new and different ways with the other client.  This is short term skills-based work and not therapy.

The Financial Specialist: A CFP or CPA who also has special training in the financial aspects of divorce is part of the team.  This professional is often the team manager.  They work with both clients and all of the professionals to gather the financial data of the clients and generate reports for the team. They can suggest different ways to handle the division of assets and debts and the pros and cons of each option. They can develop budgets and provide financial guidance in decision making.

The Child Specialist: A mental health professional with specific experience with children may be part of the team. They meet with the children and find out what they really think about the divorce.  They can support the children and help the parents support the children. They also meet with the parents and can help them develop a co-parenting plan, work on co-parenting skills and give them a heads up on what the kids are saying, feeling and struggling with about the divorce.

Wow! That’s a lot of people and that sounds really expensive you say?  Well, you’re right – that is a lot of people and it can be expensive. However, because of the team approach and the collaboration between all members of the team, costs are usually significantly lower than the traditional litigation route.  In a Collaborative Divorce, the right professional does the right work, at the right time and for the right price.  The lawyer does the legal stuff, the coach does the mental health work and the financial expert, who works as a neutral, compiles the financial data and generates the reports for the team.

For example: In a litigated divorce, lawyers do formal discovery. There are form interrogatories, special interrogatories, demands for production of documents, subpoenas of business, bank and employment records, depositions of the clients and witnesses.  This is all just a formal (and expensive) way to get information.  It takes a ton of time, costs even more money and it often results in gathering information that is unnecessary.  In a Collaborative Divorce, because of the collaborative nature of the team, there is no formal discovery, no depositions, no subpoenas etc. The two lawyers and the financial professional work with both clients to compile a list of the relevant financial information and the clients voluntarily provide it, without formal court processes. This alone can save clients tens of thousands of dollars.

In a Collaborative Divorce the team lets the clients set the goals and objectives for their family.  The team gets to know what each client wants their life to look like going forward, what they hope for themselves, the other spouse, and their children.  Coaches even help the clients to write a Mission Statement for their divorce.  The team then works to help fulfill that mission. Collaborative Divorce is a client centered, family centered and child centered divorce.  Everyone works to preserve the relationships between both parents and the children, between the co-parents themselves and to preserve the family assets.

Once you’ve decided to get divorced, the most important decision you make next, is how you get divorced.

Shawn D. Skillin, APC
Providing Personalized Divorce Transition

on behalf of:
Collaborative Family Law Group of San Diego

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